Well, well, well, only the other week I was shouting out the praises of girl Rock duo Larkin Poe on their lockdown series cover of ‘Carry on Wayward Son'. So, what drops through the electronic mail box? It’s only the brand spanking new album, The Absence Of Presence', from Kansas, which will now be available on its revised release date of Friday 17th July!
Still touching on the ‘Carry on Wayward Son’ track, which came out back in 1976, it obviously couldn’t go without mention as it is in the Top 5 Classic Rock songs of all time and went quadruple platinum in USA. From the original line-up, when the band formed in 1974, drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Richard Williams still remain, and they also both now co-produce. Billy Greer on bass/vocals, Ronnie Platt vocal/keys, David Ragsdale violin/guitar, Zak Rizvi guitar and Tom Brislin on keyboards, complete today’s line up.
‘The Absence Of Presence’ marks the band’s sixteenth release over the five decades and the Prog/Art Rock followers are going to be more than satisfied with this nine-song collection. So, lets Prog! Opening up proceedings is the title track, with some gentle piano notes followed by some steady violin strokes to bring the band in at full tilt, and then drop down to a vocal/piano verse. It's not long before the band re-join and the hard-edged guitar licks are firing on all cylinders! This eight-minute dramatic opener is pretty much Kansas through and through with well worked song structures and excellent musicianship.
'Throwing Mountains’ tucks in at number two, with more of a guitar underbelly to the slick vocals of Ronnie Platt, whilst ’Jet Overhead’, which was a recent single release, starts with some subtle piano to heavy laden keyboards, bringing on soaring vocal lines, followed by those mystic keyboard lines traditionally found in Rick Wakeman territory. The shortest track comes in the form of the instrumental, ‘Propulsion 1', clocking in at only 2 minutes 17 seconds. Is that breaking Prog rules? However, on the plus side, it does highlight the excellence of drummer Phil Ehart for his incredibly worked drum patterns.
'Memories Down The Line’ lowers the tempo for a Prog-ballad, carefully crafted, giving way to some intense violin playing and an emotive dual guitar outro from Zak and Richard. 'Circus Of Illusion’ is a more mid-paced rocker bringing the drive from the rhythm section in which bassist Billy Greer excels, as is 'Animal on the Roof’ that follows at a similar pace, providing another example of each band member's musical talent.
The commercial number from the album, and the go for song for mainstream radio, would quite simply be the penultimate track ‘Never'. Opening with subtle piano and violin lines to the vocal rise. Yes, cigarette lighters - sorry I mean mobile phone torches, will be fully switched on for this one. 'The Song the River Sang’ closes out the album, starting in a form of Folky Rock rhythmic charge. One time Yes member Brislin orchestrates and takes lead vocal on this anthemic mash-up. Kansas have certainly seen the years, but at the very same time, have polished up their sound for today, whilst keeping a careful eye on their iconic past. Carry On Wayward Sons.
‘Drinks with Infinity’, due to be released on Friday 31st July, is the latest offering from the Prague based American guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Geoff Tyson.
Geoff is a graduate and former mentee of the master of guitar based instrumental music ….Joe Satriani… which puts Geoff in exalted company, with household names such as Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett, Andy Timmons; so I was primed for some six string competence before listening to a single note. Geoff started his musical journey at a tender age learning classical piano, so it is no surprise that he covers guitar, bass and keys on this self-produced album. Drums are effortlessly taken care of by the clearly talented local drummer Eduard Štěpánek.
The 10-track album kicks off with up-tempo opener - ‘Six Weeks Of Tina’ – this track immediately displaying a bit of Satriani type virtuosity and displaying some obvious 6-string dexterity. The sound is open and airy and has a hint of very up to date modern music production, no doubt hinting at Geoff’s currency with the modern music scene. The guitars are, untypically intentionally a little raw sounding, which works well here. All in a very catchy and promising start.
Next up is the amusingly titled ‘Shag’, a really nice heavily sequenced track, with a great mix of keys, dance rhythms, and a slightly ‘Bonamassa’ type vibe to the thicker sounding guitars, particularly in the songs end section.
‘Strawberry Napalm’ follows, featuring some stunning guitar work, Geoff displays some very tasteful technique and note choices throughout…. set against another backdrop of very contemporary synth and rhythms.
‘Like Life Is Set In Stone’ would make a great film sound track… there is a lot going on here and some lovely haunting note sequences with some restrained and tasteful lingering guitar melodies and some nice atmospheric touches throughout.
‘Bark’ is a complex and flighty song… with some lovely jarring chords and fluid lead lines interspersed with driving bass and an adventurous, playful arrangement… all very good and instant fun.
The tempo drops for ‘Asabara’, a very nice lingering piece with some lovely layered production; although things picks up again for ‘Monkey Love’, another great display of tasteful guitars and we even get some nice harmony human voices, a lot more going on here the more you listen to this music.
‘Freckle’ has another contemporary sequenced dance vibe going on behind the lead guitar melodies.
As the title suggests, ‘Are You With Me?’ has a question an answer theme, with Geoff employing his guitar skills to enjoy an uplifting conversation with himself.
The album closer ‘Liquid Kitty’ again crosses that contemporary dance club feel with harmonised guitar weaving a slightly exotic melody in and out of the rhythms.
For fans of grown up guitar based instrumental music this album is a must. Geoff has managed to apply his extraordinary guitar playing talent in a tasteful, playful and intelligent way, creating something bang up to date, with great production and complex enough to warrant repeated listening. You may well get pleasantly lost in this work.
This collection of instrumental songs from the super prolific, making everyone else look like complete slackers, Mr. Joe Bonamassa, under yet another musical nom de plume, is described by him as being a tribute to his mentor Danny Gatton. With only the opening track ‘Fun House’ being by that fretboard wizard, it looks more the case of being a tribute to a number of mostly departed sensational guitarists, who are more or less well known among afficionados and guitar nuts, but mostly overlooked by the general public.
On this subject, I often ask colleagues at work whether they’ve heard of Joe B, and it’s about one in twenty, if that, who have. Given his superstar status in the Blues world, yet lack of impact on the popular world of music, it’s no surprise that some of the other guitarists that inspired these numbers have been forgotten. Using his current touring band, it’s clear that this must have been a labour of love as well as lot of fun. It’s an eclectic collection made up of quite obscure cuts from guitar instrumentalists on one hand and a mixture of theme tunes on the other.
What they have in common is that they are all cracking tunes that you would enjoy if played down your local pub; the likelihood of that happening, given the complexity of some of these is, however, fairly remote (although most guitarists would want to have a crack at ‘Ace of Spades’ for fun). The combination of great tunes and the supremely tasteful playing of Bonamassa, not to mention his fabulous band, make this a really enjoyable collection.
Opening track ‘Fun House’ is probably my least favourite on the album; I had the same reaction when I bought a Danny Gatton collection having long read about his guitar mastery; namely disappointment (before I got to the amazing Rockabilly numbers). The combination of Melodic Jazz and Country Rock playing should be a knock out, but while skilful and played (both the original and this cover) with great verve and energy, sounds a bit too lounge band and self-indulgent for my tastes. ‘Move’ by Hank Garland is another jazzy number with super quick Jazz lines played in unison by the guitar and organ; Reese Wynans features heavily and Joe throws out a couple of solos to show off his nifty jazz chops, the first being a Django style, gypsy Jazz nimble fingered effort.
Link Wray’s ‘Ace of Spades’ rocks out as powerfully as you might expect with horns adding to the blockbuster effect. This is the sort of short, sharp number that would sound fab thrown into a live set as an opener. ‘Ha So’ from a guitarist I hadn’t come across, Jimmy Bryant, kicks off with a corny oriental theme before rocking along with a sensational guitar motif and features some insanely good Rockabilly riffs and soloing from the maestro. ‘Hawaiian Eye’ the theme tune from an American TV series that showed in the States between 1959-63 (completely unknown here unless you’re a surf geek) maintains the tempo as guitar and horns pound out the main riff. This is a real blast and if you check out the weedy original theme on YouTube you can see that the band have injected this with nitro to great effect.
‘Bond (Her Majesty’s Secret Service)’ is a song I could listen to on constant repeat; the main Bond theme played on descending power chords is stunning and the superb John Barry melodies are played at full tilt with some fabulous guitar work. The backing vocals are quite exceptional on this, as they are on following number, Tony Joe White’s ‘Polk Salad Annie’, which I’m sure is included as a tribute to James Burton’s stylish playing on the Elvis version. The album closes with two chilled instrumentals, ‘Blue Nocturne’, a King Curtis B-side (to ‘Soul Stew’) from 1967, which is a pretty deep cut and has some lovely soloing from Joe, ending with ‘It Was a Very Good Year’, a hit for Frank Sinatra, written by successful songwriter Ervin Drake, which I’m sure was selected for no other reason than because it’s a lovely tune and the bandleader fancied playing some single note acoustic guitar (before switching into some fat, warm toned electric playing).
Fans of Bonamassa are going to lap this up and, given the overall quality of the songs and the powerful arrangements, it should appeal to pretty much anyone that enjoys melodic music played with passion. Well done also for reviving a dying genre, the guitar instrumental album!
The show must go on, and now in 2020, with Chip Z’Nuff as the only remaining original member of Enuff Z’Nuff, he is single-handedly keeping the boat afloat. Enuff Z’Nuff now feature Chip on bass/vocals, joined by Alex Kane (guitars), Tory Stoffregen (guitars) and Dan Hill (drums). The names don’t stop there though as the extensive guest list is full. The band originally formed back in 1984 in Chicago, Illinois, blended Power Pop with Hard Rock, and have kept to their roots ever since, while adding some elements of Psychedelia on their latest release, ‘Brainwashed Generation’.
‘The Gospel’, a piano/organ piece of 39 seconds by Joel Norman (Isaac & Joel) opens the church doors to the light, Melodic Pop/Rock of ‘Fatal Distraction'. Indeed, the name drops for the second track, come in the form of Steve Ramone (guitar) and Daxx Neilson (drums) from Cheap Trick. 'I Got My Money Where My Mouth Is’ the AOR radio big-hitter on this ten-song collective. Love the multi-layered backing vocals on this - great work Mr. Producer!
‘Help I’m in Hell’ and ‘It's All In Vain’ both fall into that dreamy ELO sound and Psychedelic arena, with guest drummer, the one and only Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater/Winery Dogs), featuring his Ringo Starr replica tama drum kit. ‘Strangers in My Head’ sees the return of original vocalist/guitarist Donnie Vie which comes a close second, just behind the aforementioned ‘I Got My Money Where My Mouth is’ on my AOR listings.
The gears are stepped up swiftly on ‘Drugland Weekend’, with some rocking lead guitar licks from former Kiss man ‘Ace Frehley’, whilst ‘Broken Love’ sees the last of the impressive guest list, which features Brian Ray, a regular in the Paul McCartney Band. This dreamy Rock tune leads us to play out with ‘Go’ and ‘Winding Road’, both in true Enuff Z’Nuff mid-pace Melodic Rock style. Not a bad apple in the bunch, the fanbase will be more than happy, the proof is in the pudding and as Mr. Dio once hailed to Mr. Blackmore - "Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll".
Recipes can seem very simple but it is only when you’ve taken some good ingredients and made a complete dog’s dinner that you realise things aren’t always as simple as they seem, and that without the correct application and skill, disaster results. On the other hand, sometimes a couple of well-matched ingredients can produce what seems like genius, which is what has resulted on this occasion with the well-seasoned vocal talents of musical legend Dion paired with a plethora of your favourite guitarists and some other very special guests. The results are superb and like a classic dish, you’ll be wanting to return to this tasty fare again and again.
Personally, I love to see musical collaborations; those encore guest spots when “wow, is that so and so…” comes out to rock out with your favourite band. It’s generally good fun, however, on recordings, collaborations can sometimes be a little disappointing. You can find yourself asking yourself why they bothered. Happily, that is not remotely the case here. There are probably two reasons for that: firstly, these are all great songs that would sound good recorded with a bunch of anonymous session players – Dion has written this collection over a period of 3-4 years (with long time co-writer Mike Aquilina) and they reflect writing skills honed over six decades (in one case revisiting the title number for non-released 1965 album ‘Kickin’ Child’) - and secondly, rather than being the dreamchild of a business exec’ looking to cash in, the collaborations began in an organic, non-planned manner, with happy results.
One of Dion’s neighbours in Florida is none other than a certain Mr. Joe Bonamassa, with whom the singer had previously worked, on the title track to JB’s ‘Redemption’ album. After Dion played a demo to him of what would become the album’s opening track, ‘Blues Comin’ On’, the guitarist wanted to play on the recording, which set the ball rolling and he was soon followed by other friends joining the party. It goes without saying that Bonamassa’s slide guitar playing on this number totally sizzles and lays the icing on top of a cooking track that rattles along nicely.
There aren’t many musicians that Bob Dylan would bother to write sleeve notes for (they go back a long way, starting from when Dion was signed to Columbia in the early sixties) and as he notes “Dion knows how to sing and he knows just the right way to craft these songs”. It’s surely a mark of the respect for the singer that all of the collaborative performances on this collection are excellent and really add to the listening enjoyment.
I’m not going to list the merits of each song, trust me they are all really good, but some of my personal highlights are: ‘Uptown Number 7’ is an ear worm of a jaunty rocker that features sensationally hot guitar playing from Rockabilly wizard Brian Setzer; ‘Can’t Start Over Again’ is a beautiful ballad that could have come from the 50’s but is completely contemporary with the blissful complimentary guitar work of Jeff Beck (with a sublime solo that is a masterclass in itself); ‘Bam Bang Boom’ is as good as anything by any current bunch of Blues Rockers and Billy Gibbons stirs the pot nicely on this.
Sonny Landreth is the slide remedy to take ‘I Got the Cure’ to another level. Samantha Fish plays some very tasty straight Blues licks throughout ‘What If I Told You’, which is another excellent track that, like many others on the album, is, I’m sure, going to end up in the live sets of pro and amateur performers alike. Alongside the guitarists there are contributions from other notables such as Van Morrison and Paul Simon; the album ends with the powerful ‘Hymn to Her’ featuring Patti Scialfa and husband, Bruce Springsteen.
If this was on vinyl, the record would have been worn down already with some irritating crackles no doubt appearing throughout, given its heavy rotation. Producer Wayne Hood has, as well as playing pretty much all the backing, done a great job to produce what is easily going to be one of the Blues albums of the year; definitely the best Blues album by a legendary performer. The good news is that Dion is still bursting with creative energy and a follow up album with the same format could be in the offing.
The defiantly titled ‘Ain’t Done Yet’ is remarkably Savoy Brown’s 41stalbum (quite a few of which seem to be available on Amazon if you don’t mind some inflated prices) and going by the energetic sounds on their latest disc they’ll be aiming for a bullseye total before it’s time for their leader to pack his plectrums away. The leader is of course original member and guiding light Kim Simmonds, whose guitar playing is on top form throughout and shows all the moves you might expect from someone who was around at the start of the British Blues explosion in the mid-sixties.
Unlike, another musician from the same era, the great Peter Green, whose recent death cast a definite shadow over this reviewer, who, apart from his magisterial guitar playing and world class song writing skills, had an authentic singing voice that resonated with depth and feeling, Kim Simmonds sort of busks his way through the numbers as far as the vocals go. You can’t be the master of all trades I suppose and he more than makes up for it with some tasty guitar playing that fans of Blues guitar will lap up. The album doesn’t try to break any new musical territory, as you might expect, but bristles nicely with the guitarist layering multiple tracks to present a rich sounding set of songs.
Recorded in New Jersey, the album is dedicated to studio owner and engineer Ben Elliott, who sadly passed away after working on the album. The stand out track for me is the closing slow and expressive instrumental ‘Crying Guitar’, which does what it says on the tin, featuring some lovely lyrical note selection using a warm fat tone that I associate with a Les Paul; some really nice controlled and clean bending on this. I’d take an entire album of this quality any day of the week.
This is in contrast to opening number ‘All Gone Wrong’ driven along by the steady beat of Garnet Grimm (yes, really) on drums and some rolling rhythm guitar as a backdrop to some strong soloing and fills up at the top end of the neck, played on a Flying V apparently. ‘River on the Rise’, a mainly acoustic number, features some nice slide playing that aimed to sound like George Harrison, and sort of gets halfway there. Nice though! ‘Borrowed Time’, a number about a mature person looking back on his life and feeling that the end is not that far away (don’t know where the inspiration for that came from…), has a suitably moody guitar accompaniment provided by the studio’s “Multivox FullRotor” effect unit (similar to the sound created by playing a guitar through a Leslie keyboard amplifier).
The title track ‘Ain’t Done Yet’ rattles along at a fair old clip and will no doubt involve the audience joining in on the chorus when this eventually gets to be heard live. ‘Feel Like A Gypsy’ is one of the better tracks on the collection, taking a break from the boogie and featuring a really nice picked rhythm guitar part and some fat toned Santana style soloing. Long standing Savoy Brown fans will no doubt fall in love with this pretty strong set of songs, while Blues fans in general will enjoy the classic guitar chops of the still vibrant front man. We are all on borrowed time but let’s hope that the loan period is extended for the veteran guitar player.
Well, this was a nice surprise! With Southern Rockers Outlaws having formed as long ago as 1967 and made their recording debut in 1975, I feared that the current incarnation of the band might be a glorified tribute act living on former glories. Not in the slightest! With leader Henry Paul (guitars and vocals) having joined in 1972 and Monte Yoho (one of two drummers) present since 1969, the current seven piece band remains as vital as ever.
With three (occasionally four) guitarists and two drummers the band carries on the tradition of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band respectively, with (to these ears) perhaps a little more in common with the former. Indeed, the hard rocking, but radio friendly opening song, ‘Southern Rock Will Never Die’, pays tribute in its chorus to fallen comrades from fellow Southern Rock outfits Skynyrd (Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines), the Marshall Tucker Band (Toy and Tommy Caldwell), the ABB (Duane and Gregg Allman, and Berry Oakley), the Charlie Daniels Band (‘Taz’ DiGregorio and Tommy ‘TC’ Crain) and Outlaws co-founders Billy Jones, Frank O’Keefe and Hughie Thomasson.
Outlaws’ own history is further honoured by a re-recording of ‘Heavenly Blues’, which first featured on the ‘Hurry Sundown’ album in 1977; that album completes a trilogy of the band at its peak which started with the band’s eponymous debut in 1975 and continued a year later with ‘Lady In Waiting’.
The title track, ‘Dixie Highway’, refers to the first vital thoroughfare between the Midwest and the South; it connected Chicago to Miami, before being replaced by the US Highway system in the late 1920’s. The fragments of the original road, which still exist in Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Tennessee, are still viewed as an enduring symbol of American discovery, fortitude and pride. The band pays tribute with some suitably Skynyrd-like guitars.
‘Overnight from Athens’ refers to the Georgia town, which looms large in the band’s history and benefits from a more Country feel in the introduction. Like ‘Endless Ride’ and ‘Dark Horse Run’, it provides co-writing credits for Henry Paul and his fellow guitarists: guest Billy Crain spent five years as an Outlaw until 2013, when Steve Grisham re-joined for his second stint, while Dale Oliver is the new kid on the block, having signed up as recently as 2018.
‘Dark Horse Run’ has a smoother vocal sound (slight hints of The Eagles perhaps), with the guitar solos interspersed with some fine organ work from Dave Robbins (who first joined the band in 2005, as did bassist Randy Threet) and some fine drumming from Yoho and Jaran Sorenson.
The album continues through the rocking ‘Rattlesnake Road’ and the instrumental ‘Showdown’ to ‘Windy City’s Blue’, a recently discovered and previously unrecorded 1972 demo written by the band’s original bassist Frank O’Keefe. The closing ‘Macon Memories’ evokes the ABB, of course, as well as other bands for whom the town featured prominently, including Wet Willie, the Charlie Daniels Band and the Marshall Tucker Band.
This is a splendidly consistent album which rewards repeated listening; unreservedly recommended. If only the band’s UK profile was greater, perhaps a promoter might arrange a tour; in the meantime I will be buying their back catalogue of CD’s!
Southern Rock Will Never Die; Heavenly Blues; Dixie Highway; Overnight From Athens; Endless Ride; Dark Horse Run; Rattlesnake Road; Lonesome Boy From Dixie; Showdown; Windy City’s Blue; Macon Memories.
Steve Howe, legendary guitarist and songwriter with Prog Rock giants Yes, released his brand new solo album 'Love Is' on 31st July through BMG Records. 'Love Is' is Howe’s first solo album since the all-instrumental 'Time' in 2011 and has a balance of five instrumental tracks and five songs. The album is available as CD, gatefold digi-sleeve with 12 page booklet, and LP, Black vinyl 180gm with gatefold sleeve, liner notes and lyrics. Howe sings lead vocals and plays electric, acoustic and steel guitars, keyboards, percussion and bass guitar on the instrumentals while current Yes vocalist Jon Davison provides vocal harmonies and plays bass guitar on the vocal tracks. The album also features Steve's son Dylan Howe (Wilko Johnson) on drums. The album was written, engineered and produced by Howe with further engineering and mixing by Curtis Schwartz. “I called the album 'Love Is' because it hints at the central idea that that love is important but also love of the universe and the ecology of the world is very important, Alexander Humboldt went around the world and recognised we are destroying the planet but that was 200 years ago! We are still destroying the planet and, I suppose, my songs show the yearning I have for the love of nature and how beauty, art and music all stem from nature. There is a theme about those things, love, beauty, ecology, nature and wonderful people.”
Steve Howe started his music career in 1964, playing around London clubs in Blues/Psychedelic Rock bands such as the Syndicats, The In-Crowd, Tomorrow and Bodast. In 1970 Howe joined Yes, replacing original guitarist Peter Banks, and became an integral member contributing songwriting and instrumentation on their next eight studio albums, including 'The Yes Album' (1971), 'Fragile' (1971), 'Close to the Edge' (1972), 'Tales from Topographic Oceans' (1973), 'Relayer' (1974), 'Going for the One' (1977), 'Tormato' (1978) and 'Drama' (1980), before Yes called it a day for the first time in 1981. They were, of course, to reform a year later, but without Howe. It was at this point when Howe teamed up with keyboardist Geoff Downes, singer and bassist John Wetton, and drummer Carl Palmer to form the supergroup Asia. They went on to release two highly commercially successful albums, 'Asia' (1982) and Alpha (1982). Howe left soon after the release of ‘Alpha’ citing irreconcilable differences with Wetton. In 1985, Howe formed GTR with guitarist Steve Hackett (Genesis), singer Max Bacon, drummer Jonathan Mover and bassist Phil Spalding. They released one studio album, 'GTR' in 1986.
After several years of session work, Howe got a call from Jon Anderson (Yes) in 1988 to join another supergroup, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. They released their sole album 'Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe' in 1989. Tracks for a second studio album were included with songs recorded by Yes to make the thirteenth Yes album, 'Union' released in 1991. This marked the end of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and the start of the eight-member Yes formation comprising Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and Yes musicians Chris Squire, Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye and Alan White. The reunion idea looked great on paper, but in reality it did not live up to expectations, so Howe bailed out soon after.
In 1992, Downes reformed Asia which marked the return of Howe for a very brief sojourn, appearing on their 'Aqua' album in 1992. By 1995 Howe was persuaded to rejoin Yes for a third time. This time he would stay with them for the long haul, going on to release a further seven studio albums, including 'Keys to Ascension' (1996), 'Keys to Ascension 2' (1997), 'Open Your Eyes' (1997), 'The Ladder' (1999), 'Magnification' (2001), 'Fly from Here' (2011) and 'Heaven & Earth' (2014).
During an extended break in Yes activity, Howe rejoined Asia when the original line-up reunited for a 25th anniversary tour in 2006. They released three studio albums ‘Phoenix’ (2008), ‘Omega’ (2010) and ‘XXX’ (2012). In January 2013, Howe announced his decision to leave the band and concentrate on Yes and his solo career.
Howe’s solo recording career has been bubbling away on the side lines since his debut ‘Beginnings’ was released in 1975. Since then he has released around twenty one studio albums and a scattering of live releases. His second album ‘The Steve Howe Album’ followed in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1991 until he released his third album ‘Turbulence’. For Howe’s fourth album ‘The Grand Scheme of Things’ released in 1993, he was joined for the first time by his sons Dylan and Virgil on drums and keyboards respectively. With this line-up he embarked on his first solo tour, captured for posterity on his first solo live album, ‘Not Necessarily Acoustic’ (1994), with a second documented release ‘Pulling Strings’ in 1998. From 1993 onwards came a steady stream of studio album releases including ‘Mothballs’ (1994), ‘Homebrew’ (1996,) ‘Masterpiece Guitars with Martin Taylor’ (1996), ‘Quantum Guitar’ (1998), ‘Portraits of Bob Dylan’ (1999), ‘Homebrew 2’ (2000), ‘Natural Timbre’ (2001), ‘Skyline’ (2002), ‘Elements’ (2003), ‘Spectrum’ (2005), ‘Homebrew 3’ (2005), ‘Motif’ (2008), ‘Homebrew 4’ (2010), ‘Time’ (2011), ‘Homebrew 5’ (2013), ‘Homebrew 6’ (2016) and now ‘Love Is’ (2020). It was around 2007 when Howe founded the Steve Howe Trio, a Jazz combo featuring his son Dylan on drums and Ross Stanley on Hammond organ. The Steve Howe Trio released the studio album 'The Haunted Melody' in 2008 and the live album, 'Travelling', in 2010. To cap the first forty or so years of Howe's musical contributions and impact on Prog Rock, in 2018 Howe finally received the Prog God award at that year’s Progressive Music Awards.
Fast forward to the present and the release of Howe's first new solo studio album in nine years. This ten track album alternates between instrumental tracks and songs. First up is the delicate and charming instrumental track 'Fulcrum', gently plucked acoustic guitar opens up the track before delicately tapped and subtle tambourine accompaniment joins it to lay the foundation. A more robust drum rhythm is soon established allowing sweet melodic electric guitar lines to weave and wander between the grooves. The upbeat 'See Me Through' livens proceedings up with a steady rhythm guitar phrase setting the pace before an insistent drum pattern comes to the fore providing the driving energy. Howe's signature clean and precise melodic guitar runs predominate, with beautifully sweet vocal harmonies adding warmth, reminiscent of Crosby and Nash. Howe is quoted as to the songs meaning; “See Me Through looks at the idea that we get through life by not driving ourselves that hard but attempting to achieve things with people who help you along the way.”
'Beyond The Call' is another elegantly engaging instrumental piece with softly strummed acoustic guitar laying the foundation for some enticing mood enhancing melodic lead guitar runs to float and glide gracefully over the top. Howe's guitar tone is thrilling and fat with a slight fuzz tone sound not unlike that of Mike Oldfield, as heard on 'Ommadawn'. Marching style drums enter midway through breaking up the melodic pattern before a more straightforward Rock beat returns. 'Love Is A River' is the stand out song on the album with several textural shifts making it a captivating and interesting listen. The track opens with descending pull-off notes played on a 12-string guitar with subtle 6-string acoustic guitar strumming in the background, the descending riff is repeated on electric guitar adding further weight and emphasis to the theme. A slow laid back drum pattern is established setting the relaxed meandering pace. The track's repeated hook theme is played on a 12-string guitar with beautiful sweet toned slide guitar passages played on electric and steel guitars that glide gracefully over the chord changes. A wondrous atmospheric song with mellow mellifluous vocal accompaniment. A slight increased shift in rhythmic pace midway through the song breaks up the laid back feel.
In at number five comes the instrumental 'Sound Picture', a sprightly paced Jazz Funk rocker with a beautiful Celtic sounding guitar phrase. Periodic shifts in rhythm patterns keep the senses alert and focused. Warm and sensual guitar tones abound, with hints of Howe's classic Yes guitar phrasing in evidence. 'It Ain’t Easy' is a mid-tempo hippie Country rocker with the sound of a Jew's Harp twanging away merrily in the background. Howe's delicate; almost fragile, English sounding vocals distract the attention away from the song being an out and out Country song. 'Pause For Thought' is another laid back instrumental track with tantalising adept guitar arpeggios predominating. A gently strummed mandolin hides gracefully in the background adding a nice jangling texture to the overall sound. The presence of a 70’s style synthesiser gives the arrangement a 70’s retro vibe. Heavily echoed guitar effects lend this track a dark and moody Psychedelic feel, which adds to the overall retro feel.
'Imagination' sounds a lot like Yes in places with Howe's recognisable guitar tone and fast paced phrasing to the fore. Pleasant enough track, warm mid-tempo AOR. Howe's thin vocals express a vulnerable tone, and do tend to fight to be heard at times. “Imagination is dedicated to my granddaughter Zuni. It’s about how I see some of the things she’s experienced in her short seven years”. 'The Headlands' is a mellifluent sounding mid-tempo instrumental track with some tastefully played and exquisitely melodic slide guitar that is soothing and calming to the senses. The final song is 'On The Balcony' which starts out quite heavy with fast fuzz tone guitar scale runs and palm muted root note rhythm guitar over a pounding driving drum beat. The intensity and pace eases up in time to allow Howe's soft fragile vocals to enter the narrative. “On The Balcony is a paean to appreciating the roses and ‘just letting things be’”. An enchantingly entrancing sustained guitar solo is superlatively compelling, adding grace and charm. Overall a pleasant enough album with some scintillating and melodic guitar playing that is sure to please die hard Steve Howe fans and maybe even a few Yes fans too!
Steven C. Gilbert
Deep Purple are one of the UK’s top influential Hard Rock bands of all time and are still going strong after fifty two years in the business! On 7thAugust 2020 they released their twenty-first studio album ‘Whoosh!’ on earMUSIC. This is the third album in a row to be produced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Lou Reed), the other two being ‘Now What?!’ (2013) and ‘Infinite’ (2017). The band have gone through several configurations over the last fifty two years, with the current line-up, or Mark VIII, consisting of original drummer, and only member to have been in every incarnation, Ian Paice, vocalist Ian Gillan, bassist Roger Glover, keyboardist Don Airey and guitarist Steve Morse. This line-up has been together, unchanged, for eighteen years now, the longest stable line-up they have ever had!
The group were initially put together in 1967 by manager, and ex-Searchers drummer, Chris Curtis, along with businessman Tony Edwards, who decided to call the group “Roundabout”. The first recruit was Hammond player Jon Lord, soon followed by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, then bassist Nick Simper and drummer Bobby Woodman. The band’s first vocalist Rod Evans brought drummer Ian Paice to the band’s attention and he immediately replaced Woodman. It was Blackmore who suggested the name change to "Deep Purple", named after his grandmother's favourite song! Their debut album ‘Shades of Deep Purple’ was released in 1968 with the second ‘The Book of Taliesyn’ following in 1969. That same year their third album, and last by the original line-up, ‘Deep Purple’ was also released. The music on all three albums was a mixed bag of Pop covers and original Psychedelic tinged Rock, very much the sound of a band finding their way and searching for direction. By the end of 1969 both Evans and Simper were out to make way for vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, both came from the band Episode Six. The classic Mark II line-up set the bench-mark for Heavy Rock with the release of the mighty ‘In Rock’ (1970) album, quickly followed by ‘Fireball’ (1971), before reaching a career high with 1972’s ‘Machine Head’. Luckily the band was captured live at their creative peak on the monumental live album ‘Made In Japan’, released in late 1972. The final album from the first era of the Mark II line-up was 1973’s ‘Who Do We Think We Are’. Due to internal tensions and musical differences Gillan and Glover left the band in 1973.
By 1974 the new incarnation of Purple featured Glenn Hughes (Trapeze) on bass and vocals and an unknown singer called David Coverdale, along with Blackmore, Lord and Paice. They went on to release a couple of strong albums in 1974 including ‘Burn’ and ‘Stormbringer’. Blackmore, unhappy with the Soul Funk direction the band were heading in, left to form Rainbow in 1975. His replacement was American guitarist Tommy Bolan (Zephyr). This line-up only made one studio album, 1975’s ‘Come Taste the Band’, before the band called it a day in 1976. Sadly, by December 1976 Bolan died of drug intoxication. After the break-up, most of the past and present members of Deep Purple went on to have considerable success in a number of other bands, including Gillan, Whitesnake and Rainbow.
Surprisingly, the Mark II line-up of Gillan, Blackmore, Lord, Glover and Paice reunited in 1984, and went on to release the incredible ‘Perfect Strangers’ album in 1984 followed by ‘The House of Blue Light’ album in 1987. By 1989 Gillan was fired due to his soured relations with Blackmore, and in was former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner for his one and only Purple album appearance, 1990’s ‘Slaves and Masters’. During the writing and recording for the next album, 1993’s ‘The Battle Rages On...’, Turner was asked to leave to make way for the return of Gillan. Mid-way through the European tour to promote the album Blackmore walked out, never to return again! His last appearance with the band was 17thNovember 1993 in Helsinki, Finland. Joe Satriani was drafted in to complete the Japanese dates in December and stayed on for a European Summer tour in 1994. He was asked to join permanently, but his commitments to his contract with Epic Records prevented this. The only other candidate that was on all the band’s eligible list was Dixie Dregs/Kansas guitarist Steve Morse. The chemistry was instant and the Mark VII was born! The line-up of Gillan, Lord, Glover, Paice and Morse went on to release the brilliant ‘Purpendicular’ (1996) and ‘Abandon’ (1998) albums.
By 2002 Lord decided to leave the band to pursue his solo classical music career - Sadly Lord died of pancreatic cancer on the 16th July 2012 - Lord’s replacement was keyboard wizard Don Airey (Rainbow, Whitesnake, Colosseum II). The Mark VIII came together in 2002 and remains unchanged to this day. They have gone on to release a further five studio albums including ‘Bananas’ (2003), ‘Rapture of the Deep’ (2005), ‘Now What?!’ (2013), ‘Infinite’ (2017) and ‘Whoosh!’ (2020). A poll on radio station Planet Rock ranked them 5th among the "most influential bands ever". The band received the Legend Award at the 2008 World Music Awards, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
The question is, does the world really need another new Deep Purple album? Well, why not if the desire, drive, energy, chops, creativity and chemistry is still there! 'Whoosh!', Purple's first album since 2017s ‘Infinite’, opens with the steadfast plodding of 'Throw My Bones', solid enough track, slickly executed and tight as a nut! Gillan's voice is different these days, not so many high pitch screams anymore, rather he has adapted his vocal delivery to cover the lower registers, with a slight rasp and fragile crackle evident. Despite the obvious changes, his voice still has the power when required, but also a warm endearing quality, which he delivers with seasoned panache. “All I've got is what I need, And that's enough, as far as I can see, Why should I walk into the great unknown, When I can sit here and throw my bones.”
'Drop the Weapon' has an instantly infectious groove with some agile keyboard flurrying action from Airey. Paice and Glover are locked in tight and bounce of each other with telepathic ease. Morse provides a nifty, if slightly restrained, guitar solo. Gillan snarls out the lyrics with jaunty syncopation and expressive attitude. “Who you trying to impress, you making a bid, To be a big shot brother, but you're just a small kid, Now your reputation got a minor stain, It'll be washed away by tomorrow's rain.”
'We’re All the Same in the Dark' is another groove laden funky track, heavy on the keyboards. Super tight and bubbling rhythm from the Paice/Glover engine room lays down a solid foundation for a smooth flowing and accomplished guitar solo from Morse. Gillan's story telling is as poetic, witty, and expressive as ever it was. “I don't know what you see in me, Some would say that we're miles apart, But when everything is said and done, and the lights go down, We're all the same, we're all the same in the dark.”
'Nothing at All' opens with a dueling battle between agilely played guitar scale runs from Morse and insistent keyboard flurries from Airey before a catchy melodious chorus from Gillan lifts the song and carries it onwards, “It's nothing at all, Nothing at all, And the old lady smiled, It's nothing at all, Then she blew all the leaves off my tree.” Airey gets a huge slice of the limelight with an indulgent, but superlatively played classical tinged keyboard solo. Astutely played bass phrases from Glover and a succinct and slick guitar solo from Morse give the track further gravitas. Gillan is on top form with his evocative vocals and ardent lyrical composition, “When I hear about the doom and gloom, That's around the corner, and coming soon, I take a sip of mother's ruin, And sit with my back to the wall”.
'No Need to Shout' is a thunderous heavy rocker with a scintillating groove! The Purple signature Hammond sound shimmers and gargles underneath the strident rhythm with snarling, gruff and expressive vocals projected over the top. Gillan is at his best in story telling mode, adding his trademark vocal inflections and intonations to emphasise emotions from humour and elation to frustration and anger. “You stand there on your soapbox without fear, Like a chanting wild demented auctioneer, It's just a bunch of crap, You're talking out your hat, And, I don't want you chewing off my ear.”
'Step by Step' opens with some skilfully played keyboard scale runs from Airey before a dropped beat drum tempo kicks in forming an irresistible infectious groove. Luscious ascending and descending keyboard tinkering from Airey and a nimble-fingered guitar solo from Morse cement the track. Gillan's voice is treated with vocal effects and double tracked to add further weight, “Step by step, Rattle through the night, Don't look now, There's no end in sight, Step by step, Moving on, through the graveyard shift, No way out, That's the truth, 'bout the size of it.”
'What the What' is an old style bar room boogie rocker! Gillan is clearly having a blast with this one and he shines with his tongue-in-cheek swaggering vocal delivery. “We goin' out tomorrow, gonna do it right, Celebrate the fact that we're still alive, In that case, we better make it tonight, I'll drink for us all and you can drive.” Airey is vamping it up with some vibrant Boogie-woogie piano and Morse is getting down with some old style Rock 'n' Roll guitar!
'The Long Way Round' has that dependable four to the floor relentless driving beat, a tenacious chugging rhythm guitar sets the groove with assiduous Hammond flourishes fleshing out the rhythmic foundation. Airey takes the limelight once again with a scrupulously executed modulated synthesiser keyboard solo. Gillan is in reflective mode again! “It's been a long time coming, I never thought it would last, I think about the future, Who knows what might have happened in the past?”
'The Power of the Moon' is a darkly atmospheric and mystically strange track that features a dexterous stabbing Hammond solo from Airey and a short concise supercharged guitar solo from Morse. Gillan's vocals are slightly modulated adding to the magical vibe and mystical sensation. “Who am I to talk about the lunacy at hand? Burnishing the madness in my head, And who am I to mention that before it all began, Everything I heard was never said at all?”
'Remission Possible' is a very short, one minute and thirty nine second instrumental in which Airey and Morse take charge of proceedings by staging a dueling battle with their respective instruments. Things just start to get interesting when the track abruptly ends and segues into 'Man Alive'! Lavish layers of atmospheric keyboards with double string plucked guitar accompaniment set the scene before elevating into an insistently heavy and fast driving piece. Gillan’s vocals are double tracked adding greater weight and strength. The track breaks down in the middle leaving just spoken word vocals from Gillan over a quiet metronomic beat accompaniment. “All creatures great and small, Graze on blood red soil, And grass that grows on city streets, It's been a quiet town, Since the juice went down, Now something's washed up on the beach, A man alive.” Morse gets his moment to shine with a short, but sublimely meticulous guitar solo!
'And the Address' is another instrumental track which originally appeared on the band’s first studio album 'The Shades Of Deep Purple' in 1968. A heavy gutsy riff with a galvanizing groove masterfully executed by Morse, Airey, Paice and Glover.
The final track is 'Dancing in My Sleep' which opens with nimble synthesiser flourishes before an irresistibly insistent solid rhythmic tempo kicks in establishing the intention. Formidable Hammond playing from Airey adds multiple layers of lustrous textures. Gillan is clearly having fun here with his imaginative and jocular lyrics which he delivers with attitude and undeniable charisma, “Don't you love my fancy footwork, I ain't no Fred Astaire, I can tap into your life, babe, I can take you anywhere.”
Overall a good strong and vibrant Rock album with several irresistible riffs, interesting hooks, a few catchy tunes and a bucket load of well-crafted lyrics. The more you listen to the album the better it gets! Definitely a grower! This is the sound of a band comfortable in their own skin, they know what they are about and are having a blast doing it! I wouldn’t say it was their best album, but definitely not their worst either. Will this be the final Deep Purple studio album? Who knows? Probably is the general consensus, but then, maybe not…!?
Steven C. Gilbert
One thing you can’t say about Walter Trout is that he’s a slouch; that definitely wouldn’t hold up in court. The fresh studio albums keep coming; it might have been expected that after last year’s excellent and Blues chart-topping album, ‘Survivor Blues’, that he might have rested on his laurels, especially after his well-documented illness of recent years. However, having been given a new lease of life, he is certainly making the most of it. The recording was completed just before the Covid-19 pandemic closed normal life down. The guitarist has referred to the current situation as a lot of extraordinary madness going on. What started out, as songs dealing with the guitarist’s own flaws and weaknesses ended up having a universal application.
While lyrics are important to a songwriter as expressing their view of the world, and clearly drive the impetus to create music in the first place, it’s the sounds that this listener is more interested in (but does also appreciate the heartfelt lyrical content here, which give the songs some real weight). With that in mind I can report that the musical content is excellent. The album has an interesting audio range. Long-time producer Eric Corne has done a great job. The sound is sort of down the bottom end of the spectrum with the top end knocked off; there’s clarity but none of that brittle sharp sound that you get with a lot of modern recording. The drums and bass sit nicely together, tight as a nut, allowing the layered guitars and superb keyboard work from Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis to sit on top like the icing on a cake.
The opening and title track opens with some electronic sounds courtesy of son Jon Trout, which give way to a lazy drum beat, followed by reverberating electric piano, the hypnotically soothing sound you recall from the Doors’ ‘Rider on the Storm’. Not unexpected maybe when you find out that the album was recorded in the private LA studio of Robby Krieger, with Ray Manzarek’s original keyboard sat in the corner. The vibe has definitely rubbed off. It’s a bit like commenting that the Pope has a balcony, to note that the guitarist can play a bit, but it has to be said that his playing is stunning throughout. Apparently, the veteran guitarist broke his pinkie three times in the past year (to paraphrase Oscar, breaking a finger once is unlucky, twice looks like carelessness and three times is taking clumsiness to new levels), which presented a challenge when recording, but clearly gave the soloing an extra edge.
His guitar playing is exceptional fluid and lyrical; solos flow with a soaring dynamism, never descending into those mindless forays up and down the scales that you get sometimes with a few players (well, a lot actually). The solo on ‘Ordinary Madness’ is a gem. Elsewhere, there’s a real power in some of these songs, alongside the almost ambient flow of some cuts; ‘Wanna Dance’ is full of strident chords, played up high on the neck and full on vocals (it should be noted that Walter is in fine, powerful voice throughout) with lyrics (I do listen to them sometimes) that could be the Trout mantra “When I hear the music, it cuts so deep, it lives inside me, in my sweet dreams when I sleep”.
‘My Foolish Pride’ takes it back down, a jangling slower number, featuring an echo of the organ from ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ in the intro and some very nice piano during the verses. A lovely solo on this. ‘Heartland’ picks up the pace with those familiar chords from ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’ (Em-G-A-G for bedroom pickers). This has fab dynamics, full on with those chords making you bob your head like an idiot, followed by quite passages (an accordion sound makes a brief appearance at one stage) and back into it with some superb backing vocals, soloing to knock yer socks off and some delightful descending unison guitar phrases to bring matters to a conclusion.
‘All Out of Tears’ is a stonking classic Blues in the modern fold, with the guitar playing set to awesome. It goes on like this, 11 tracks, each with something different to offer (‘The Sun is Going Down’ is exceptional, kicking off with multi-layered vocals before heading into the song, which features a change of pace two thirds through and goes a bit Prog Rock. Superb!). It’s a real achievement to be still improving after all these years (and writing songs like ‘Up Above My Sky’, another classic cut here). This is another excellent album and another contender for Blues recording of the year; I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.
When 79 year-old David Crosby’s long career in music is mentioned, most people will instantly think of his work with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and occasionally Young); he is, after all, a Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductee with both bands. Sadly, rather less critical attention is paid to his other projects, with the possible exception of his 1971 solo album ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’, so BMG’s decision to reissue these two albums ‘CPR’ and ‘Just Like Gravity’ on CD is most welcome.
In the mid 1990’s Croz was recovering in hospital from a liver transplant, when he was contacted by John and Madeline Raymond, the adoptive parents of Croz’s son, who was born in 1962. The son, James, had developed into a talented pianist and had toured with Jazz fusion saxophonist Ronnie Laws; a meeting was arranged and father and son finally formed an enduring bond which also bore musical fruit.
Indeed, the first song they ever worked on together was strong enough to be the opening track on their first recording; by then they had been joined by the Bluesy guitarist Jeff Pevar, who had impressed Croz during his time in Marc Cohn’s band. Abbreviating the name Crosby Pevar Raymond to CPR, the band’s eponymous debut album was released in 1998.
That first song, ‘Morrison’, was a reaction to the biopic depiction of The Doors’ legendary vocalist and it succeeds in combining the sort of harmony voices for which CSN are so renowned with a Jazzy feel that would sit easily on a classic Steely Dan album.
The CSN feel also pervades ‘That House’, which was written by Pevar on board Croz’s schooner, the Mayan, which had also been the “birthplace” of CSN’s ‘Wooden Ships’ a couple of decades earlier. These songs also benefit from stellar rhythms provided by guests as notable as drummer Russ Kunkel and the incomparable electric bassist Leland Sklar.
The diverse backgrounds of Croz’s co-leaders allows certain tracks a Jazzy feel - ‘One For Every Moment’ features a crisp soprano sax solo which is reminiscent of Kenny G - while others are Bluesier, such as Pevar’s guitar break on ‘Rusty And Blue’. Similarly, those differing styles permit a range of tempos, with the guitar work on the up-tempo ‘It’s All Coming Back To Me Now’ contrasting nicely with the more reflective songs.
Those gentler songs include ‘Somehow She Knew’, which was written by Croz for his wife Jan, who had comforted him after the film The Fisher King reawakened traumatic memories of the death in a 1969 car accident of his partner Christine Gail Hinton. Her death had contributed significantly to Croz’s descent into decades of substance abuse and addiction, which, in turn, led to a prison term and serious health problems; Croz addresses those personal issues in both ‘At The Edge’ and ‘Time Is The Final Currency’.
‘Yesterday’s Child’ is a Croz and Raymond composition about finally finding each other; thankfully their lasting musical bond which spawned a follow-up album in 2001.
‘Just Like Gravity’ feels more like a recording by an established band, rather than leaders plus guest musicians. The likes of Sklar and Kunkel had been replaced by a regular rhythm team of Andrew Ford and Steve DiStanislao respectively.
It is also interesting, given that Croz’s frustrations with CSN were apparently due to the unwillingness of the other co-leaders to incorporate new material in their set lists, that CPR was not reliant solely on his compositions. Only three tracks on ‘Just Like Gravity’ were composed solely by Croz; one of them, ‘Climber’, had originally been written for CSN’s 1999 ‘Looking Forward’ album, before ultimately being scrapped.
However, Croz hadn’t burned all his bridges with CSN and ‘Angel Dream’ was co-written with Graham Nash and Raymond. Although CPR was only active until 2004, Pevar and Raymond have continued to perform and tour with Croz as band members for CSN, C&N and David Crosby & Friends.
These two albums constitute CPR’s entire studio output and it’s good to have them available again. If they are well received perhaps it may lead to the reissue on CD of the band’s two live digital albums, ‘Live At Cuesta College’ (1998) and ‘Live At The Wiltern’ (1999).
(CPR) Morrison; That House; One For Every Moment; At The Edge; Somebody Else’s Town; Rusty And Blue; Somehow She Knew; Little Blind Fish; Yesterday’s Child; It’s All Coming Back To Me Now; Time Is The Final Currency.
(Just Like Gravity) Map To Buried Treasure; Breathless; Darkness; Gone Forever; Eyes Too Blue; Jerusalem; Kings Get Broken; Angel Dream; Katie Did; Climber; Coyote King; Just Like Gravity.
It’s some 25 years since Rory left planet earth, yet his music lives on regularly in Rock radio and on the streets of Donegal once a year. Donegal was of course Rory’s birthplace, hence the ever-popular tribute festival. It is no surprise then that a comprehensive 'The Best Of' compilation of 30 tracks is set to be released on Friday 9th of October. Hot on the heels of the recently released 'Check Shirt Wizard – Live in ‘77' and last year’s ‘Blues’ album, the fanbase won’t be disappointed.
All the big hitters are present including ‘Bad Penny’, ‘Shadow Play’, ‘Tattooed Lady’ and ‘A Million Miles Away’, to name a few. Four songs from his first band, ‘Taste’, formed in the late 60’s, are also dropped, covering the start of his recording career through to his last recordings back in 1990. While I look, like many, for the ‘Canned Heat’ song, ‘Bullfrog Blues’, which Rory made his own, it's not included, but can be found on all the ‘Live’ releases.
There is though an interesting Rolling Stones cover with Rock ‘n’ Roller piano man Jerry Lee Lewis, recorded in a jam session called the ‘London Sessions’ from back in 1973. Rory was once offered a role in the Stones following Mick Taylor’s departure, but declined and Ronnie Wood then stepped in.
As you listen through this collective, you can see why so many big name guitarists, from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Brian May, Slash, Joe Bonamassa and Johnny Marr, credit Rory as their hero. Rory regularly switched styles from Blues to mainstream Rock mixing in Celtic riffing and sometimes stretching to the more Hard Rock drive you find in ‘Moonchild’. The stand out tracks for me are the epic ‘Ghost Blues’ (7 minutes 59 seconds), building from an acoustic base, the grooving ‘Bought and Sold’ and the vocal rich ‘Philby’.
Available in all physical and digital formats through the UMC record label, 'The Best Of’, from the man with the battered Fender Strat, is ideal for a fan’s collection or a sampler for the new listener.
Chicago’s vocal/guitar man JD Simo fronted the Nashville Rock/Blues band Simo, formed with bassist Frank Swart and drummer Adam Abrashoff back in 2010, through to their last album in late 2017. The beginning of 2018 brought JD’s first solo album, ‘Off At 11’, taking drummer Adam Abrashoff with him, understandably so, because he’s a drummer’s drummer, and also a co-songwriter. Having seen Simo twice in the UK, once at London’s now defunct Borderline venue, and their rebel rousing performance at Ramblin’ Man Fair 2016 - a certain cover version over-shadowed their own material, namely The Beatles, ‘With A Little Help from My Friends’, done in true Joe Cocker style, that became their stand-out track.
'JD Simo', the self-titled solo album, released this August, has four cover versions out of the ten songs recorded, but it’s actually the self-penned tracks that stand-out most. Notably the first two tracks, opening with ‘The Movement’, that delicately spills in a Psychedelic space, where JD adopts falsetto vocal phasing through to a Hendrix guitar driven out-play, followed by the Funky and punchy ‘Love’, which rocks up next with its stand-out Poppy chorus line. The first of the cover versions is James Brown’s ‘Out of Sight’, given a heavier Funk-Blues makeover from the original, while ‘Higher Plane’ bring out JD’s riff laden back catalogue, complimented by Adam’s pounding drum beats and his fellow rhythm partner, Andraleia Buch, solid on bass guitar.
In complete contrast to the pattern of the album so far, ‘One of Those Days’ drops next, all soulful, Smoky Robinson style, with its falsetto laden vocal and the softer chorus sounding guitar. ‘Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic’, the Issac Hayes number, steps heavy through the Everglades, gliding into the Psychedelic guitar euphoria of the 70’s, then a further change of genre hits up, with ‘Take That’, a kind of Rockabilly Country instrumental catching the train back to town. Another cover version in the form of Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Soul of a Man’ is given a modern twist, while ‘Help’ comes with layered guitar and vocals in an experimental reverb ambience. Closing out, with a return to the Blues, is the down-tempo whisky swagger of ‘Anna Lee’, which has that Jimmy Page feel about it. When comparing the original Simo line-up material, with JD's latest solo offering, it's clear that the new album is all about crossing genres, experimenting with the production and by mixing textures. That has well and truly been achieved! Indeed, “It’s a bridge between R&B and Psychedelic Rock,” as states JD.
This album is brilliant! In case you want to know a little more about ‘Nightbird Motel’, I can confirm that Connor Bracken & The Mother Leeds Bandare not celebrating a certain team returning to the Premiership (unless by some strange coincidence they are football fans of their namesake northern team, which would be a good story) hailing as they do from Asbury Park New Jersey. They don’t sound anything like their better-known hometown musicians Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny, although they convey the same sense of single-minded urgency as these stalwarts.
This is one of those albums that instantly grabs your jaded attention like an unexpected slap around the chops and never lets your attention wander thereafter. It absolutely crackles with energy and is beautifully produced to give your ears audio quality of crystalline clarity. This is the band’s follow-up to their debut ‘The Light in the Sky’ from 2016. Clearly in no rush to put out the difficult second album, they have spent two years preparing what is an absolute corker.
Recorded at the Soundmine Studio in the mountains of East Stroudsburg (no, I’d never heard of it either), Pennsylvania, the four-piece have created a minor Rock classic. To me this sounds like a New Wave record from the early 80’s, recorded with a Classic Rock sensibility and with distinctly Celtic overtones (not another football reference).
The album starts with ‘When the World Stops Turning’, entering with clipped power chords and busy drum fills before an insistent riff kicks in and the powerful vocals of band leader and sole songwriter, Connor Bracken start to tell a story, building to a strong chorus underpinned by the band rocking out. This collection has such a clean, bright rocking sound. ‘Read on You’ sounds like The Waterboys on steroids.
Not only are the songs melodically powerful and fresh but, the lyrics haven’t just been chucked together to fill out the space; each song has its genesis in an interesting tale and the titles alone evoke a sense of American life from a different era; titles like ‘Photographs of Johnny Cash’ (a great song) and ‘Voice on the Radio’ (ditto!). The solos are short and punchy and the dual guitars are mostly employed driving the tunes with ringing chords and neat riffs.
The sound is teasingly familiar yet somehow fresh and different! This is a band you should check if you haven’t heard them and there is no better place to start than this superb set.
Ozric Tentacles are a British Psychedelic Rock instrumental band that have gained a reputation as one of the most influential bands to emerge from the UK’s festival scene, going on to become stables at Glastonbury and other major Rock festivals throughout the UK and Europe. They formed during the Summer Solstice at the Stonehenge Free Festival back in 1983 and have just released their fifteenth studio album, and first in five years, ‘Space for the Earth’ through the Kscope label on 9th. All seven featured tracks were written, programmed, recorded and produced by founder and band-leader Ed Wynne at Blue Bubble Studio in Fife, Scotland. The album was mastered by Adam Goodlet at Re:Creation Studios, UK. The striking album artwork was inspired directly by the seven tracks and realised by arboreal artist Kitty (Twisty-Trees) with help from Ed and cosmic artist Ivy.
Throughout their thirty-seven year career there have been approximately thirty musicians that have passed through the bands ranks at one time or another, with Ed Wynne being the only constant throughout! The current line-up features Wynne on guitars/keyboards, his wife Brandi Wynne on bass/keyboards, their son Silas Neptune on keyboards/synthesiser and Balázs Szende on drums/percussion. ‘Space for the Earth’ is a poignant album in the bands career as it features guest appearances from several former band members including co-founder Joie Hinton on synthesisers (1983-1994), co-founder Nick “Tig” Van Gelder on drums/percussion (1983-1988), ‘Jumping’ Jon Egan on flute/kaval (1987-2005), and finally Paul Hankin on percussion (1985-1991, 2013-2015).
The band were originally formed by Ed and his bassist brother Roly - who tragically died in 1999 - along with Van Gelder and keyboardist Hinton in the summer of 1983. Apparently the name was a joke suggestion for possible names for alien breakfast cereal! According to Wynne, "'Ozric' is an old Viking name meaning 'divine energy', and 'tentacles' is a silly word to put on the end”. Their initial plan was to just play free festivals, where gigs were often spontaneous and with fluid line-ups. After a couple of years of constant live work and several line-up changes later, they began to get serious and started to release home-made and live recordings on cassette and sell them at gigs. Between 1983-1989 they released six cassettes, ‘Erpsongs’ (1985), ‘Tantric Obstacles’ (1985), ‘Live Ethereal Cereal’ (1986), ‘There Is Nothing’ (1986), ‘Sliding Gliding Worlds’ (1988) and ‘The Bits Between the Bits’ (1989). All are now available on CD.
The Ozric Tentacles sound incorporates a variety of musical styles from Funk, Jazz Fusion, Dub, Reggae and ambient music all fused together in a maelstrom of Psychedelic Rock! Wynne’s guitar playing is highly influenced and inspired by that of Steve Hillage and Gong. The vast majority of their songs are instrumentals. As Ed Wynne says, this is because, "I've never really liked vocals. Words always get in the way, make everything too specific. Our music is more about creating moods and giving the listener the chance to get whatever they want out of it. Music is better than singing." There are a couple of exceptions such as ‘Dissolution’ from the ‘Pungent Effulgent’ album and ‘Iscense’ from the ‘Erpland’ album where ‘Jumping’ Jon Egan provided the vocals.
In 1989, the band started their own label, Dovetail Records, ‘Pungent Effulgent’ being their first album to be released on CD and vinyl. This was followed by the double album, ‘Erpland’, in 1990. In 1991 they managed to achieve the top spot in the UK Indie Chart with their single ‘Sploosh!’ from the album ‘Strangeitude’. In 1993 their ‘Jurassic Shift’ album reached the Top 20 of the UK Albums Chart and No. 1 in the UK Indie Chart. Their reputation as a formidable live act continued to escalate throughout the 90’s and 2000’s, which saw them regularly being featured somewhere on the bill for most of the major Summer festivals. They also continued to release a steady stream of interesting and well received studio albums including ‘Arborescence’ (1994), ‘Become the Other’ (1995), ‘Curious Corn’ (1997), ‘Waterfall Cities’ (1999), ‘The Hidden Step’ (2000), ‘Spirals in Hyperspace’ (2004), ‘The Floor's Too Far Away’ (2006), ‘The Yumyum Tree’ (2009), ‘Paper Monkeys’ (2011), ‘Technicians of the Sacred’ (2015) and now, ‘Space for the Earth’ (2020).
As well as being the main driving force and writer of all Ozric Tentacles material, Wynne managed to find time, along with Joie, to form another band called ‘Nodens Ictus’. Formed in 1986 as an occasional side project and exclusively focused on synthesiser based music. They have released three albums to date including ‘The Grove of Selves’ (1987), ‘Spacelines’ (2000) and ‘The Cozmic Key’ (2017). If all that creativity wasn’t enough, Wynne also went on to release a critically acclaimed solo album in 2019 called ‘Shimmer into Nature’.
The new album ‘Space for the Earth’ comprises seven instrumental tracks spanning forty five minutes. The production on the album is warm, crisp and bright with crystal clear detailed definition and expansive resonance. A pure delight for the ears! The first track ‘Stripey Clouds’ is a sensational trance inducing audio extravaganza! Opening with gradually building exotic influenced synthesised sonic layers before leading into a complex, percolating and stabbing rhythmic pattern. The wandering melody meanders through the aural ether ebbing and flowing with the interconnecting rhythm patterns and tempos. Wynne's signature fast paced echo drenched guitar scale runs, intermingle with lush synth layers. Paul Hankin’s tasteful conga playing augments the track nicely, with sweet atmospheric flute adding pastoral overtones. ‘Blooperdome’ has an instant infectious beat with bountiful splashes and splooshes of programmed electronic noise textures in abundance. Cascades of sound gurgle in a vortex of swirling and swooshing elements creating a relaxing hypnotic dreamy ambient vibe.
The best track on the album ‘Humboldt Currant’ is a full-bodied all-encompassing adrenaline fueled musical journey that transcends beyond the outer planetary realms of the cosmic galaxy! All this vibrant mayhem is anchored by an infectious funky groove that pops and pings with excitement! Multiple layers of overlapping synthesiser textures explode in a tsunami of intoxicating waves of sound, with insistent stabbing guitar chords slicing through the maelstrom adding to the ferocity, eventually subsiding to gentler and more smooth flowing melodic runs that calm proceedings down, creating clear pockets of light from the ensuing furore. Wynne’s dexterous ascending and descending guitar scale runs, add to the exhilaration and intensity of the track making it quite an epic workout. This is a well crafted track full of interesting twists and turns and an abundance of electronic pings, dings, swirls and swooshes to blow your mind! Transcendental indeed!
‘Popscape’ features a mini reunion of three of the original band members, Wynne on guitar, Hinton on synthesisers and Van Gelder on drums. The start of this track sounds a bit like 'On The Run' from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ by Pink Floyd! A repetitive incessant trance inducing rhythm predominates with multiple layers of screaming and squelching guitar effects adding much zeal and zest! Frequent undulating squeaky noises interject between fiery oscillating waves of squawking and squealing electronic soundscape. Quite a trip! ‘Climbing Plants’ is a soothing mellow track with an amalgamation of synthesiser block phrases and octave runs that intermingle between intricate rhythm patterns, interspersed with interjecting tip tapping break beats. Ebullient ornate guitar phrases from Wynne trickle delicately through the ether creating a relaxed chilled vibe.
‘Space For The Earth’ is awash with a vast spectrum of colours and shades, a glorious melting pot dripping with a cornucopia of tantalising sound collages and polyphonic textural layers. This track takes you on a euphoric spiritual journey into the outer reaches of space and time! The open vastness of the sound engulfs the senses and opens up consciousness to a higher level of interpretation. The long serving Egan provides some beautiful and uplifting flute melodies that elevate the feel good vibes. Sit back, relax and let your mind melt into visceral flutters! The last track on the album ‘Harmonic Steps’ is swamped in more spacey sounds and throbbing synths that weave and wander over tripped up crazy rhythmic tempos and alternating grooves. Intense melodic guitar arpeggios run riot over the manic roller coaster of electronically generated waves of radiant energy. An invigorating and intoxicating ride!
If you are already a fan of Ozric Tentacles, then you won't be disappointed with this album. It doesn't stray very far from the tried and tested formula of previous albums, containing all the musical twists and turns you would expect from them, but it is also fair to say that this is possibly their best sounding album in years. If you are new to the band then 'Space for the Earth' is not a bad place to start.
Steven C. Gilbert
King King release their fifth studio album on Friday 6th November and fans of the band won’t be disappointed by the contents. Unsurprisingly the band haven’t taken a left field approach and tried to incorporate Hip Hop or similar into the sound (or bagpipes for that matter).
No, it’s solid, anthemic Rock from the kick off with the single ‘Never Give In’ opening side one (it is available on vinyl after all) sounding rather like Bad Company (which is not bad company to be compared to) with the classic arrangement of big slashing chords for the first three phrases of the verses and a descending run on the fourth. It even has a double time pick up at the end of the song; showing off time and tested moves! Rather like the opening track off their last excellent album, ‘Exile & Grace’, which was used as the opening number when I saw them last live back in 2018, this has all the credentials to be the new blockbuster set opener.
‘Fire in My Soul’ follows and keeps up the high tempo pace, another really strong song with a memorable chorus. The band are described as a “Rock Blues” band (is that meant to mean they’re more Rocky than Bluesy? So, not in the excessively broad church of Blues-Rock? Torturous distinctions, but, to be honest, sticking Blues next to their name, is apart from being a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act, merely a flag of convenience for these smooth operators.
There’s not a Blue note in sight; it’s FM Rock all the way, epitomised by the big ballad sounds of ‘By Your Side’ and ‘When My Winter Comes’ (which cheekily recycles the cliché phrase “Fire In My Soul” from the aforementioned song), which sounds like they could be covers of songs by one those permanently permed American bands that bestrode the charts in the 1980’s (and have appeared on every “Drive” style compilation ever since).
Actually, all the songs are written by the band, with the lyrics credited to the brothers Nimmo and arrangements by Alan Nimmo and the excellent keyboardist Jonny Dyke, whose playing stands out throughout (particularly on the funky backing to ‘I Will Not Fall’). ‘One World’ and ‘Dance Together’ are big numbers that fans will be playing frequently, the latter no doubt resulting in mass audience hands in the air clapping when the band gets back out playing to packed venues, circumstances permitting.
It’s a well-produced and very good follow up to ‘Exile & Grace’, but maybe could have pushed the sonic boundaries a little more. It will be interesting to see what comes next from this charismatic combo.
It’s always nice when you “discover” a new artist whose music is right up your street and so it was with Kyle Daniel. Although pegged as a Country artist (he was scheduled to appear at the C2C Festival in the O2 Arena at the start of this year until Covid-19 reared its ugly head), I’d put him more in the sweet spot where Southern Rock and Country Rock converge.
And before you run away screaming towards a banjo & fiddle themed nightmare, I’m talking about the sort of songs you might hear sung by Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule) or Charlie Starr (Blackberry Smoke) or Chris Stapleton (one of the newer stars of the Country music scene). Indeed, I’ll stick my neck out and say that if you love “The Smoke”, you’ll like this guy too.
I was sent his self-titled 2018 debut EP to review and enjoyed it so much that I immediately started an online hunt for any other recordings; as luck would have it I found a sealed copy of his 2019 follow-up EP for only a couple of quid! And to think my wife considers the amount of time I spend online to be a waste… ;-)
Kyle hails from Bowling Green, Kentucky, but appears to have settled in the fertile music environment of Nashville, Tennessee, where both EP’s were recorded. Further biographical details seem to be in short supply, so we must hope that his profile continues to rise, so that we can find out more.
The debut EP opens with the radio friendly rocker ‘Hangover Town’, which immediately kick started the Blackberry Smoke comparisons in my head; if this song doesn’t get your feet tapping, then you may already be dead!
‘Keep On Rollin’ and ‘Halfway to Your Heart’ maintain the uptempo feel, but are separated by the slower ‘Ain’t No Difference’ on which Kyle is joined by Brent Cobb, whose own recordings (try ‘Providence Canyon’ for starters or maybe ‘Shine On Rainy Day’) are well worth checking out.
The disc closes with another slower song, ‘That Somebody Ain’t Me’, which features an uncredited female co-vocalist; pleasant, but a reprise or alternative mix of ‘Hangover Town’ was what I craved… so I went back to the beginning and played the whole disc over again!
The sophomore EP ‘What’s There To Say?’ is, if anything, even better; given that titles like ‘Born To Lose’ and ‘Don’t Give Up On Me’ suggest that Kyle may have struggled with his personal demons, it’s heartening to think that hardship and adversity can still give rise to music of real quality. That description certainly fits the two radio friendly songs at the disc’s core; ‘Somewhere In Between’ is very good, but ‘God Bless America (Damn Rock ‘n Roll)’ is genuine “ear worm” material!
There should be some online audio of these songs available via the usual platforms, so treat yourself to a listen (especially if you’re convinced that you don’t like Country Rock; hell, even some of Skynyrd’s songs would have happily worn that moniker!) and if you get the chance to buy the discs, do it; they are unreservedly recommended.
"Shaken, not stirred." Well, the husband-and-wife team of Grace and Arron Bond have just done that by breaking into the Planet Rock radio playlist. It’s no easy feat for an independent act to break into a station that goes for a certain type of sound that is dominated by the 70’s/80’s heavyweights such as the likes of Deep Purple or Bon Jovi. Their recently released toe tapper of a single, ‘Battleground’, is the song pulling the punches. Due to be released on Friday 20th November, ‘We Fly Free’ is their debut album, following a couple of EPs ‘The Uprising’ and ‘Innocence of Youth’, where a gem of a ballad called ‘Tomorrow’ lives, but doesn’t die.
Very earthy with plenty of grit, the When Rivers Meet sound does offer something different from the rest of the Blues/Rock acts around today. Grace brings extraordinary Rock and Soul vocals, mandolin and violin, whilst Arron provides vocals and various guitars. The album was recorded at the Boathouse studio in Suffolk with producer Adam Bowers who also played drums, and shared bass/keyboard duties with fellow musician Robin Breeze.
Opening up, slide guitar groover, ‘Did Break the Law’, comes out all guns blazing, followed by the sinister sounding ‘Bound for Nowhere’, which had me looking to see if Clint Eastwood was going to pop in for a whisky shot. 'Walking the Wire’ returns to the Bluesy slide guitar with a belting chorus where both Grace and Arron blend and interweave on the vocal line. 'I’d Have Fallen' drops the tempo with an interesting use of beats around an almost Def Leppard style guitar riff. If you imagine you were sitting out on the prairie watching the sun go down, then this would capture the atmosphere perfectly. Their first single, ‘Battleground’, as already mentioned, drops in at No.5, followed by ‘Kissing the Sky’. Taking a more Classic Rock direction, Grace pulls the mandolin from the box for the solo break, plugs into a Marshall and we duly set sail.
‘Breaker of Chains’ sees a dual vocal attack, with Arron more dominant in the mix over a switch to the darker side of Americana Blues. Treading through the swamp, the combo work it well. The anthemic, ‘I Will Fight’, loads up initially with a pinch of piano to build mid-section and closes out how it began. ‘Bury My Body’ could fit quiet happily into a Spaghetti Western, kicking off with acoustic guitar and whistling (similar to what Guns N’ Roses executed on 'Patience’), then layering up the instrumentation along with dual vocal harmonies. ‘Take Me to the River’ brings Arron back on main vocal, the slide guitar fires up and Grace gives her mandolin another airing. ‘Friend of Mine’ sees the arrival of the cigar box guitar for a stripped-down Blues number which gives you the real feel of ‘When Rivers Meet’. They close out with their thunderous drum and guitar heavy title track, ideal for festivals to come, sometime in the future.
A cool collection of songs and musicianship ticking all the boxes in the Blues/Rock genre, while maintaining a live feel throughout. Indeed, check out every Saturday at 8pm, where you get an hour of live music, beer sampling and shout-outs - especially if you tip!
Ahoy music lovers! This is a real treat for the ears, so get ready to turn down your hearing aids and turn up the volume! The amiable guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick first tried his hand at a solo album back in 2006 and, clearly daunted by the prospect of the “difficult second album”, delayed the follow up as long as possible to put off falling foul to this cliché syndrome. Actually, that’s not true, he’s just one of those talented people that other musicians like to hang out and work with. After working with fashionable indie poster girl Thea Gilmore back in the day the guitarist has worked with a host of different people, most notably holding down the lead guitar role for venerable British rockers FM.
Still, it is a ridiculously long time between albums. The good news is that it’s a scorcher. This is Classic, Melodic Rock music built on quality song writing (sounds simple but isn’t) and features really nice guitar work, which is I suppose what you might expect, but nevertheless it’s worth noting that the playing is excellent throughout. It’s equally worth commenting that JK is no slouch on the vocal front either. Unlike a number of guitar slingers, who you wish could be muzzled in the public interest, this guy is convincing as a front man, singing powerfully (a suggestion of Gary Moore maybe) with a hint of a rough edge (without needing to do that pretending to have swallowed a cocktail of barbed wire and razor blades that some singers adopt and which is about as convincing as a Trump claim of electoral fraud).
Opening and title track, ‘Ballad of a Prodigal Son’, is a punchy four heavy beats to the bar, riff propelled number with a strong multi-harmony chorus and an explosive flowing solo. A really catchy rocker. The momentum is maintained by ‘No Such Thing as a Sure Thing’, which has an equally groovy riff and another powerful refrain underpinned by prominent, rising harmonised backing vocals. The guitar solo on this sounds like the guitarist has been waiting, like a coiled spring, to unleash the burst of rootsy notes. ‘Ain’t Going Down Alone’ sounds like a Free album track and again features some excellent backing vocals, which are exceptionally good throughout the whole album and contribute strongly in emphasising the Melodic nature of the collection.
The multi-layered guitars include some searing slide work, which adorn a number of tracks, including the following track, ‘Blue Heron Boulevard’, a tremendous instrumental that sounds like Sonny Landreth meets the Allman Brothers. Sonically sensationally pleasing on the lugholes! There are no weak links here; ‘Gravy Train’ rattles along, driven by a tight riff that is like a speeded up mid-period Dr Feelgood. ‘Brave New World’ is a slower number that has drawn out picked chords, heavy on the chorus pedal, punctuated by sharp Blues fill, before revving up for the pushed attack of the chorus and an absolutely blistering solo. This is the sort of thing you might expect to find on a Joe Bonamassa album. ‘Always On The Road’ is a jaunty rocker, piano and horns driving this in a classic combination, Stax meets North Country Blues!
This is far superior to most other offerings you’re likely to encounter this year, a really superb collection. Don’t leave it 14 years before the next one Jim!
Unless you’re a fan, it must be bemusing to observe Joe Bonamassa’s career with a disinterested eye, the constant releasing of new albums must make them blur into a kaleidoscope, hard to distinguish between. His industry is admirable. The (v corny) punning ‘Royal Tea’ is the third release this year behind the revamped ‘A New Day Yesterday’ and the fabulous instrumental project under the banner of the Sleep Eazys. The big question for the casual listener is “does this constant output result in a dilution of quality?” The answer is no!
I must confess to being a big fan of his, one of the reasons being that his guitar playing is always so, well, tasteful. This album is no different, full to the gills of interesting, well thought out multiple layered guitar parts, whether chord-based picking, melodic motifs, rocking riffs or flowing lead lines, it’s a delight for guitar fans. Recent studio albums by the maestro, like ‘Blues for Desperation’ and ‘Redemption’ were really strong, cohesive collections of songs through which common themes seemed to flow.
The inspiration for the new album, recorded here at Abbey Road, was his admiration for the British guitar heroes he listened to in his formative years (er, didn’t you do this with your recent ‘British Blues Explosion’ album Joe?). To be honest, it’s a bit loose as a theme and isn’t particularly evident on this album, despite innumerable listens. There are little musical nods to influences like the ‘Boris The Spider’ bass that leads into ‘Lookout Man’ (some fantastic harmonica playing on this track); ‘A Conversation with Alice’ has the Cream era Clapton sound down to a tee, and the solo in the title track has a guitar tone strongly reminiscent of EC period Bluesbreakers etc; however, these occasional musical references aside, there is no consistent thread running through these songs.
The song writing is as you would expect, of high quality but, lyrically, there is not a lot to get your teeth into. Cream lyricist Pete Brown helped out with co-writing along with Bernie Marsden, but it’s hard to see where. The songs sound great but lyrically (something I normally couldn’t care two hoots about) seem to be a collection of skilfully composed phrases rather than anything more meaningful.
The album kicks off strongly with the epic ‘When One Door Opens’, the powerful orchestral opening giving it a cinematic feel and was no doubt influenced by the arrangements necessary for the Sleep Eazys album. This contains a host of different sections, all beautifully intertwined; a memorable chorus and a breakout, introduced by a “Beck’s Bolero” drum pattern over which a haunting brass instrument plays an almost discordant phrase and a howling guitar moans away before more Beck like riffing start and the songs rocks out, before inevitably closing with a whisper.
You can’t of course maintain this monumental impact on every track (not unless you are creating something truly memorable) but it would have been interesting to see the intermingling of orchestra and guitar on more tracks, which would have given more of a stylistic flow to proceedings. The title track is another belter and special praise must be given to his long-time backing vocalists on this, whose voices blend together on the high harmonies in a way that is truly distinctive. Reese Wynans’ playing is excellent, adding to the richness of the arrangements for each number.
Each track is enjoyable in its own right: ‘High Class Girl’ has a Booker T and the M.G.’s feel and groove with snarling guitars played down the low end of the bridge that sound like those contributions by English guitarists heard on 60’s albums by visiting Blues legends. ‘A Conversation with Alice’ is another big number with an abundance of guitar hooks (and no doubt different guitars given JB’s collection mania) and varying tones. ‘Savannah’ is a strong Country Rock number that sounds like it could have been the starting point for another project, altogether. The album ends with ‘Lonely Boy’ which must be the track featuring our own national treasure, Jools Holland, and sounds like one of those enjoyable romps when a luminary joins his big band on Hootenanny and the combined efforts take the roof off. It’s great, but doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the album, which is a bit of a stylistic mixture, that would be a really neat idea for a whole collaborative album.
It’s a strong album and Bonamassa fans will love it, however it feels like he was striving for something that wasn’t quite achieved. Having said that, given his high standards, falling short still means he’s head and shoulders above the competition in his field.
‘Hey Sicko’ is the new album from Noush Skaugen, with her smoky vocals and occasional low rasps, she has delivered an album soaked in Americana. You could close your eyes and quite easily be sat in a small town diner somewhere in the mid-west with ‘Hey Sicko’ playing on the Jukebox. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album was recorded in Los Angeles with musicians hailing from Nashville, Tennessee - Stanton Edward on guitar and bass with Jon Radford on drums. Noush herself was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Iranian father, although she was brought up in London, going on to read Law at Warwick University.
First breaking into the music scene in the noughties, Noush states that, “Hey Sicko has been a decade in the making, surfing life’s waves of hopes, disappointments, right hooks, laughter and tears. It is a love letter to the awakening of our self-empowerment. I am a storyteller.”
Singing and song writing are not Noush’s only story telling talents. She appears in the Channel 4 black comedy series ‘Dead Pixels’ - the story of a group of obsessive gamers playing a fictional multiplayer online role-playing game. Doing the background research for this review, I did watch Season 1 on All4 and thoroughly enjoyed it. With Season 2 already commissioned, I recommend it as part of Lockdown viewing. Noush also stars in the full-length feature film ‘Sisters In Arms’, which I shall also be watching for completeness at some point! RADA trained, according to IMDb, there is even more to her back catalogue, which I will also be checking out over the rest of Lockdown.
I hope you are already impressed with the amount of research I have done for this piece as I also watched the Hey Sicko ‘making of’ video. The album, it seems, was born from the musicians jamming along with each other, sat closely together whilst in the studio. “I can literally feel the beat of the bass drum physically inside me”, exclaims Noush, with her stool positioned inches from the bass drum as she strums her acoustic guitar. And that sentiment is captured clearly on the finished album. Produced by Michael Beinhorn, who has worked with some most famous Americana such as Aerosmith, Soundgarden and Hole, the album certainly captures the essence of that session feel, but at the same time is polished and raw, if that is really possible. And Noush reveals that this approach was not accidental. Having selected her best songs and rehearsed then until her fingers bled, the musicians only then went into the studio, once they were as one entity playing intuitively together - live as a band. An old fashioned way of making great Rock music.
Kicking off with ‘Automatic’, a catchy radio friendly plugged in Rock song, the album starts off on a high with Noush’s vocals matching the rocky riffs. That style is repeated in ‘Run Baby Run’ and a slightly slower ‘Buried In Vegas’. But variety is the spice of life, and on this 12-track album, there is much variety to be had. Other stripped down songs, such as the title track ‘Hey Sicko’, have a more acoustic feel, in a soulful minor key feel, with Noush on the guitar. Again, closing my eyes, I am sat in an American roadhouse bar listening to Noush sat on a stool in the corner strumming her guitar as I sup my cold Bud. Unfortunately, I open my eyes, and I am sat at the kitchen table in Blighty sipping a cup of tea. But I hope you get what this album can potentially do to you?
‘If The Devil’ is almost Rockabilly, ‘Everything’s OK’ sooths you. ‘Bitter Lace & Leather’ has an 80’s Rock feel, ‘Tonite’ is a melancholy journey, whilst ‘Starts When It’s Over’ builds from a simple guitar track to a pulsing crescendo. Get the drift? The variety of styles is brought together with Noush’s powerful and intriguing vocals. With her stunning dark looks, the black and white videos that accompany the singles from the album, present us with the total package. Noush says that as an artist, she wants to reach down to the deepest darkest depths of our souls. Well this album seems to have achieved its aim with me! With that, I am closing my eyes whilst I drift off to get another Budweiser, I mean cup of tea!
Today, Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar release their highly anticipated latest studio album, ‘The Reckless One’, via Gypsy Soul Records. With the worldwide pandemic wrecking utter havoc upon the careers of many musicians, the band elected to use their time off the road to record their latest tour-de-force, and it's the follow-up to 2018’s Juno-nominated 'Run To Me'. Eleven of the album’s twelve songs were either co-written or solely composed by the multi-faceted artist. Indeed, her music embodies Roots, Blues, Blues Rock, Soul, R&B, including a dash of Motown - performed by an ensemble of amazing musicians at the top of their game.
Just make sure you don your pork pie hat for their opener, 'Love Is All Around', as Samantha sings that you, "just place your hand in mine", as she introduces you to her funky Blues Brothers and Sisters, with their foot stomping horns, keys and a cool instrumental. Indeed, there's no let up, with more of the same from their first single, 'Don't Have To Be', this time with bongos thrown in for good measure. In fact the openers encompass everything we currently miss about on the floor dance numbers, and you could quite easily imagine the smile on Samantha's face when performing these in your mind's eye. The only cover on the album is slower, but still yet another Funk infused toe-tapper with some glorious keys, that not only showcases one musical legend, Bob Dylan, but also another, as we hear a much rawer dimension to Samantha's voice, that draws obvious comparisons to Tina Turner - simply the best.
'Loving You Is Easy', not only builds and grows as a track, but also upon repeated plays, thanks mainly to some great complementary backing vocals and a mean slide guitar instrumental. Horns aplenty herald 'One Heartbreak', with it's tingly keys instrumental plus another raw Martin vocal, whilst the band's latest single, the superb 'I've Got A Feeling', sees the dexterous voiced Samantha nail the first of two 12/8 Gospel infused Soul ballads. Hallelujah! Six down, six to go, and the band continue to explore further genre territory with 'Sacrifice', and its galloping Jeff Lynne meets 'Silver Star' feel intro, followed up with a big dose of Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound influence, before returning back to more familiar ground, and another delightful ballad, 'So I Always Know', which slows things down nicely again.
Time to put that titfer back on again, as the unrelenting beat of 'Pass Me By' picks up the pace, with another nod to Spector with a Motown twist, as Martin's gritty vocal once again accentuates her versatility, drawing understandable comparisons to that of Scotland's finest - Lulu. 'Better To Have Never' is the second of Samantha's outstanding 12/8 Gospel infused Soul ballads, its sweet mid-section guitar solo, giving our waving arms a well deserved rest! Taking us back to the early Soul and R&B of the early 70's is the simply constructed, 'All That I Am', with its atmospheric, stand-out backing vocals, whilst, closing out 'The Reckless One' is 'Who Do You', and its powerful Amy Winehouse vibe, which sees Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar, for mine, saving their best to last.
Detecting a panoply of influences ranging from Mavis Staples, Sharon Jones and Otis Redding To Booker T. and the MG's and the Memphis Horns, it's an astonishingly powerful, funky and deeply soulful album. Indeed, 'The Reckless One' represents another massive step forward for this shapeshifting vocalist, together as a songwriter, singer, arranger and band-leader.
Well here’s a novel way to promote yourself during Lockdown 2.0. Launch an album online with an augmented band (strictly less than six members) to play tracks live. Intersperse some interview footage and employ a warm-up band, the Brighton heavy rockers the Dead Reds and, hey Presto, you’ve got yourself a virtual gig.
Genre-bending Mike Ross’s output can only be described as Chemical Brothers in a social bubble with the Allman Brothers; throw in a bit of John Squire on Second coming-era Stone Roses and you begin to get close to this guy’s oeuvre.
‘Thanks A Lot’ is opening choice for this gig and also the album, which begins with a portentous electronica-infused passage (think Death in Vegas), before transforming into strident R&B, that channels the Coaster’s ‘Yakety-Yak’ style vocal, but with a more insistent beat.
‘Tell Jerry’, a tribute to Country singer Jerry Red, exhibits a high-pitched wail of the guitar, which imbues the track with a souped-up oriental feel. A pause for breath allows Mike to introduce the band featuring Jade ‘Like the Stone’ Williams on backing vocals, Stevie ‘Keys’ Watts on organ (stalwart of the London R&B circuit, plus Darren Lee on drums and Dan Lyons on bass (who both manage to keep time perfectly on this rhythmically diverse session). The pace changes with frazzled weariness demonstrated on the ‘The Loser’, which weaves into mellifluous slide-work on ‘Leviathan’.
The album, on the whole, showcases Mike as a versatile guitarist in the Allman Brothers-mould and their influence is no more telling than on the Jessica-inspired instrumental ‘The Unforgiven’, but then the mood changes down the line when you get the machine-gun attack of ‘Shoot You If You Run’, a song about deception.
With the show being broadcast from Brighton, local band The Dead Reds provided a suitable warm-up, beginning their set with a song for our times entitled ‘Shut it Down’, with some glorious flute-playing and one could mistake the Mike Ross dead-ringer vocalist and guitar player to be the main man himself (as this reviewer did when entering the online stream midway!)
Mike Ross’s current single is ‘Don’t Say a Word’, but I’m afraid the secret is out: this guy from the UK is a serious contender in the modern Southern-Rock stakes.
Ivan De Mello